Bosnian army scores success

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The Independent Online
In a rare military success, Bosnian government forces have taken large areas of high ground near Bihac from Bosnian Serb troops surrounding the Muslim pocket.

UN officials yesterday confirmed that soldiers of the Bosnian Fifth Corps seized more than 100sq km of land, including the Grabez plateau overlooking Bihac town, capturing some Serbian weapons and forcing thousands of civilians to flee. 'They've caught the Bosnian Serb army unawares,' said Lieutenant-Colonel Tim Spicer, a UN spokesman in Sarajevo. 'Their normally efficient command and control structure collapsed and they withdrew in disarray, abandoning military equipment.' Fighting petered out yesterday afternoon, possibly because of 'atrocious' weather, the UN said.

It is not yet clear, though, if the Bosnian government troops can hold the land against a Serbian counter-attack. For the moment, they have significantly strengthened their position around Bihac, but a second Bosnian attack, near the Serb-held town of Doboj, has failed with the Bosnian army taking about 200 casualties, the UN said.

There has been an influx of war-wounded to Bihac, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which has just delivered emergency surgical supplies to the local hospital. An ICRC spokeswoman, said about 3,500 civilians, mostly women, children and the elderly, fled the area around Grabez and are sheltering in Serb-held areas of Croatia.

The Fifth Corps commander, Atif Dudakovic, appears to be on a roll: two months ago his troops defeated the rival Muslim forces of Fikret Abdic, the Bihac tycoon, and fought off an attack by Krajina Serb forces from Croatia.

But Serb forces around Bihac - at the end of the supply line - are suffering from a blockade imposed by Serbia. The Bosnian Serb army is short of manpower and is strung out along a1,200km front line.

Bosnian Serb troops arrested and detained four British soldiers and an interpreter who crossed the front line between Tomislavgrad and Kupres, apparently seeking to make contact with the Serbs. They have been held at Kupres police station since Tuesday.